Minnesota Deer

Whitetail buck standing in fieldThe white-tailed deer is one of Minnesota's most recognizable mammals and is a popular big game animal. It is found in every Minnesota county and adapts well to most surroundings.

At the time of European settlement, white-tailed deer in Minnesota existed throughout the wooded river valleys and woodlands of central and southern Minnesota. In northern Minnesota where the forest habitat was much different than it is today, deer were absent or rare. Moose and woodland caribou were the most abundant members of the deer family.

As European settlement cleared forests for lumber and agriculture, deer habitat quality improved through the creation of new openings. Increased agricultural land conversion eventually reduced habitat quality in many areas and, along with market and subsistence hunting, resulted in deer population declines. By the 1880s, deer were rare in many parts of Minnesota.

Natural resource management and regulated hunting has enabled the population to grow. Today, Minnesota is home to about 1 million white-tailed deer.


 

  • Moose Zone Changes
  • Population Goals
  • Deer Season
  • Season FAQ
  • Status & Statistics

Overview

In response a request from the citizen advisory deer goal setting team in this area and to better address objectives outlined in the moose plan, DNR is proposing boundary changes to deer permit areas 122, 127, 176, 178, 180 and 181. Proposed changes are expected to benefit moose management while allowing for improved deer hunting opportunities outside of the primary moose range. Background

Proposed Changes

• Permit area 122

• Permit area 127

• Permit area 176

• Permit area 178

• Permit area 181

• Permit area 180

• New permit area 133

 

The maps below show the current deer permit areas and proposed changes that would become effective in fall 2016. Specific changes for each affected permit area are listed above. Click on each map to view a full-sized version. Maps are large and may take several minutes to download.

2015 deer permit areas
Proposed 2016 deer permit areas

2015 goals

Goals listed below reflect the desired change in deer population from 2014 levels. Click the block heading or permit area for more information. Additional resources related to goal setting are listed after the goal listings.

Goal-Setting Block 1

Area Goal
117 Stabilize
122 ↑ 25%
126 ↑ 25%
127 Stabilize
180 ↑ 25%
2015 deer goal map
Click to expand map

Goal-Setting Block 2

Area Goal
169 ↑ 50%
172 ↑ 25%
184 ↑ 50%
197 ↑ 50%
210 ↑ 50%
298 ↑ 50%

Goal-Setting Block 3

Area Goal
241 Stabilize
242 ↑ 25%
246 ↑ 25%
248 ↑ 25%
251 ↑ 25% *
258 ↑ 25%
259 ↑ 25%
287 Stabilize
* Communicate desired goal to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service refuge managers

Goal-Setting Block 4

Area Goal
152 ↑ 50%
155 ↑ 25%
156 ↑ 50%
157 ↑ 25%
159 ↑ 50%
183 ↑ 50%
221 ↑ 50%
222 ↑ 50%
225 ↑ 25%
247 Stabilize
249 ↑ 50%
* Communicate desired goal to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service refuge managers

Goal-Setting Block 5

Area Goal
219 ↑ 25%
223 ↑ 25%
224 ↑ 50% *
227 Stabilize
229 ↑ 25%
235 ↑ 25%
236 ↑ 25%
285 ↑ 25%
338 ↑ 25%
339 ↑ 25%

Goal setting resources

Minnesota map showing outline of deer goal-setting blocks

 •G3 survey conducted summer 2014
 •G1, G2, G4, G5 surveys conducted fall-winter 2014-2015
 •G7, G8, G9 surveys conducted fall-winter 2015-2016

Hunter and landowner survey results

Reports include information about hunter satisfaction
 •Full report (includes all blocks from all years)

2015-2016

 •Sand Plain-Big Woods - Block 7
 •Sand Plain-Big Woods - Block 8
 •Sand Plain-Big Woods - Block 9

2014-2015

 •Superior Uplands Arrowhead - Block 1
 •North Central Plains Moraines - Block 2
 •East Central Uplands - Block 4
 •Sand Plain-Big Woods - Block 5

2014

 •Pine Moraines - Block 3

2013

 •Southeastern Minnesota landowner survey
 •Southeastern Minnesota deer hunter survey

Background information

 •Superior Uplands Arrowhead - Block 1
 •North Central Plains Moraines - Block 2
 •Pine Moraines - Block 3
 •East Central Uplands - Block 4
 •Sand Plain-Big Woods - Block 5

Advisory team recommendation

 •Superior Uplands Arrowhead - Block 1
 •North Central Plains Moraines - Block 2
 •Pine Moraines - Block 3
 •East Central Uplands - Block 4
 •Sand Plain-Big Woods - Block 5

Final 2015 deer goal setting reports

 •Superior Uplands Arrowhead - Block 1
 •North Central Plains Moraines - Block 2
 •Pine Moraines - Block 3
 •East Central Uplands - Block 4
 •Sand Plain-Big Woods - Block 5

2014 deer harvest report

Public comments & response

A complete summary of DNR response to public comments.

2014 goal setting

More deer in much of southeastern Minnesota is the anticipated outcome of a citizen-led deer population goal-setting process that increases deer numbers in five of the nine permit areas under review. DNR increased goal densities in deer permit areas 341, 342, 345, 347 and 348. Permit areas 343, 346 and 349 will maintain existing goal densities. Whitewater Wildlife Management Area, permit area 344, will maintain current densities.

Materials DNR wildlife staff provided to advisory team members and the public during the goal-setting process are available for public review. Contact Leslie McInenly, DNR big game program leader, at 651-259-5198 or send an email to leslie.mcinenly@state.mn.us to receive these materials.

Season outlook and preparation

While deer sightings by hunters should be up in many areas this fall, hunters can expect another conservative deer season in 2015 as restrictive harvest will allow deer populations to rebuild across much of the state. The 2015 deer hunting regulations will be similar to last year, with one-deer limits in most of the state.

Hunters can buy deer licenses and apply to the lottery for antlerless deer permits starting Saturday, Aug. 1. The deadline to apply for the lottery is Thursday, Sept. 10. The DNR strongly advises hunters to review new deer hunting regulations, permit area designations and boundary changes in the 2015 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook, available at the DNR's deer hunting page.

In 70 of Minnesota's 128 deer permit areas, hunters must be chosen in a lottery to shoot an antlerless deer. Only bucks can be hunted in 14 areas. In 29 areas, hunters have the choice of shooting a doe or a buck. Bonus permits allowing hunters to shoot more than one deer may only be used in 11 permit areas and for some special hunts. In three southwestern areas, DNR is restricting antlerless harvest to youth hunters only.

New for 2015 in brief

Here are some of the changes for deer hunters in 2015. For specific information, see the DNR's deer hunting page.

  • Northern Minnesota hunters will again have a bucks-only season but specific permit areas have changed. In bucks-only areas, no antlerless deer may be harvested by any hunter, including those with archery or youth licenses.
  • Similarly, no antlerless deer may be harvested by any adult hunters in youth-only antlerless areas. However, as a result of 2015 legislation, new this year is an exception allowing either-sex harvest by any hunter age 84 and up or by hunters who are residents of veterans' homes. 
  • Another change this year is the return of youth-only antlerless harvest for a few areas in southwestern Minnesota. The measure is designed to increase populations into goal range in areas where antlerless harvest under the lottery system hasn't been restrictive enough to increase deer numbers. Similar to the bucks-only designation, no antlerless deer may be harvested by any adult hunters in youth-only antlerless areas.
  • One important exception for antlerless harvest is that, as a result of 2015 legislation, any hunter age 84 and up or any hunter who is a resident of a veterans' homes may harvest a deer of either-sex. 

Click on the map to view hunting season notes:

Deer regions map SW MN SE MN Central MN NE MN NW MN

Click a question to view or hide the answer

What can hunters expect for the 2015 deer season?

Hunters in many areas should be seeing more deer while afield this summer and fall as a result of the conservative 2014 season and a fairly mild winter, both of which contribute to a growing deer population.  However, hunters can expect another conservative deer season as management continues to rebuild deer numbers across much of the state. Similar to last year, most hunters will be able to harvest only one deer.

 

What is the 2015 projected harvest?

Minnesota will again by design have a low harvest, with an expected harvest similar but slightly higher than the 2014 season. DNR is projecting the total harvest to come in around 140,000 to 155,000 deer. In comparison, the 2014 harvest was just under 140,000 deer.

 

If there are more deer, why another conservative season?

This is a rebuilding year. The way to build a larger deer populations is to restrict the amount of deer that can be harvested. In particular, we reduce opportunity to harvest antlerless deer to increase the number of fawns born in the following spring. DNR is continuing a conservative harvest approach to raise deer numbers as directed by our recent goal-setting process. Minnesota's deer population is resilient and responds quickly to rebuilding efforts. History has proven that years of lean harvests won't be necessary.

 

Why are we allowing deer populations to increase?

In recent years, DNR has heard from hunters that deer numbers are too low and that efforts to reduce deer numbers went too far, particularly when coupled with the effects of severe winters. In listening sessions and in goal setting processes there has been strong interest in rebuilding deer populations in many areas.

 

Does the northern bucks-only restriction continue?

Northern Minnesota hunters will again have a bucks-only season in many areas. In bucks-only areas, no antlerless deer may be harvested by any hunter, including those with archery or youth licenses. Similarly, no antlerless deer may be harvested by any adult hunters in youth-only antlerless areas. However, as a result of 2015 legislation, new this year is an exception allowing either-sex harvest by any hunter age 84 and up or by hunters who are residents of veterans' homes. 

 

What next?

As deer numbers rebound, deer will be managed to meet population goals for deer permit areas in Minnesota. This is the third year the DNR has worked with citizens and stakeholders to re-assess and re-establish deer population goals in portions of the state. Goals for southwestern and portions of northern Minnesota were set in 2012. Goals for southeastern Minnesota were set two years ago. In 2015 goals were set in northeastern, north-central and east-central Minnesota. Goals in the remainder of the state will not be revisited until after completion of the current legislative audit of the deer population management program.

 

How far would we need to build deer populations to approach the maximum that the landscape can support?

Deer density goals take into account social and biological interests. Arriving at population goals involves balancing desires of hunters, wildlife watchers and others who may support higher deer densities with those of farmers, foresters or others who experience conflicts with deer who may favor lower deer densities.

 

Harvest reports

Annual compilation of the deer harvest

Population modeling

Harvest maps

Minnesota winter severity index

Archive of hunter surveys

Deer permit area adjustment background

Adjustment of deer permit area boundaries in northeastern Minnesota was a recommendation advanced by the moose advisory committee in 2009. While in the process of finalizing the moose research and management plan, DNR made a number of boundary adjustments in 2010 to better align deer permit areas with the primary moose range. Some areas along the southern portion of moose range were not adjusted.

From 2010 to 2014, deer in all permit areas that overlapped with moose range (with the exception of permit area 176) were managed to maintain pre-hunt densities below 10 deer per square mile, a density established in moose plan objectives. This meant that some areas outside of primary moose range were also managed for lower densities.

During the 2015 deer goal setting process, the citizen advisory team for the area requested additional consideration of boundary alignment as a result of conflicting interests in and outside of moose range, primarily for permit areas 122, 126 and 180.

It is important to note that deer permit areas, while based on habitat, land ownership, land use and other factors that influence deer management, are administrative units defined by landmarks that are easily identifiable (e.g., roads or other well defined landscape features). As a result, DNR does not expect perfect alignment of permit areas and the primary moose range. The intent is to better identify permit areas where deer management needs to reflect moose management needs and those where deer hunting opportunity can be increased.

Permit area 122 will become permit area 130

Comparison for permit area 122
  • DPA 122 will change considerably but is still entirely within the primary moose range.
  • The area east of CSAH 135, formerly in DPA 176, has an existing moose population and will now become a part of DPA 130.
  • The southwestern part of permit area 122 will shift to become part of DPA 132. This area, 184 square miles of primarily federal land in the Superior National Forest, has had very low moose densities for the last 30 years. Deer productivity in this area is moderate and habitat is more similar to the habitat located in DPA 132.
  • This area primarily consists of county, state, public forests with a small percentage of private lands embedded.
  • This area has moderate deer habitat productivity and large concentrations of wintering deer occur around the city of Tower and the area around Eagles Nest Township.
  • The area east of CSAH 135 has the best remaining moose population on the west end of the primary moose range, outside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
  • This area will continue to be managed primarily for moose. In accordance with the moose plan, and consistent with deer goal setting advisory team suggestions, deer population management will aim to maintain densities near 2014 levels.

Permit area 127 becomes area 131

Comparison for permit area 127
  • DPA 127 will increase substantially in size and will also remain entirely within the primary moose range.
  • This permit area will now extend south to include a portion of the old DPA 180.
  • This DPA has low deer productivity.
  • The area has a history of low deer harvests and relatively low hunter numbers.
  • Expanding the area south to make it larger will assist with more accurate deer population modeling.
  • This permit area has moderate moose numbers in the northern half and low to moderate moose numbers in the new southern half.
  • This permit area is largely public forest land in the Superior National Forest with the majority being federal forest land in the Superior National Forest and the rest a mix of county and state forest land.
  • This permit area has relatively low deer numbers throughout the area with pockets of higher deer numbers near human development such as Isabella and the McDougal Lakes chain. This will be true for the Finland and Lax Lake areas in the new area 131.
  • This area will continue to be managed primarily for moose with no desired increase in deer numbers (a stabilization of the deer population). This strategy is in accordance with the Moose Management Plan and consistent with the Deer Advisory Team recommendations from 2015.

Permit Area 176

Comparison for permit area 176
  • DPA 176 will be slightly smaller to allow for an increased emphasis on deer management for the entire permit area. (The far eastern edge of DPA 176 will shift to become part of DPA 130)
  • The area has moderate to high deer habitat productivity for the Tower Work Area.
  • The new east end, west of Hwy 135, has very few or no moose in the area.
  • This area is a mix of primarily private ownership with scattered public lands.
  • Deer population goals in this area were last revisited in 2012 and have not changed.

Permit Area 178

Comparison for permit area 178
  • DPA 178 will be slightly smaller with a continued emphasis on deer management for the entire permit area.
  • This area has high deer habitat productivity for the Tower Work Area.
  • The southeastern corner of DPA 178 will shift to become part of DPA 132. This area, 117 square miles of primarily public forestland, provides less productive deer habitat than the mixed public/private lands throughout the rest of DPA 178.
  • Deer population goals in this area were last revisited in 2012 and have not changed.

Permit Area 181

Comparison for permit area 181
  • DPA 181 will be slightly smaller with a continued emphasis on deer management for the entire permit area.
  • This permit area has very low moose numbers limited primarily to a few moose that wander in from better moose range to the north and east.
  • Most of DPA 181 is productive habitat and is able to support good deer numbers
  • The northeast corner of DPA 181 will to become a part of DPA 132. These 88 square miles of primarily public forest land consist of less productive deer habitat than the mixed public/private lands throughout the rest of DPA 181.
  • Deer population goals in this area were last revisited in 2012 and have not changed.

Permit area 180 becomes area 132

Comparison for permit area 180
  • DPA 180 will change considerably.
  • The new DPA 132, an area identified based on similarities in habitat, landownership, and land use, will allow for an increased emphasis on deer management.
  • The northern portion of DPA 132 does overlap with the primary moose range. However, moose densities in this specific portion of the range are very low and it is currently considered marginal moose range. This area also lies outside of the historic moose hunting zones, a designation also related to the low relative densities of moose. The specific boundary for primary moose range in this area will be considered during the next update to the moose plan.
  • As described above, parts of former DPAs 122, 178 and 181 will be in this new permit area.
  • The land ownership in DPA 132 is predominately public (Superior National Forest in the north, St. Louis County forest in the south).
  • The area has moderate deer habitat productivity.
  • Consistent with goal setting advisory team suggestions, population management will aim to increase deer densities in this area by 25 percent relative to 2014 levels.

New permit area 133 established

New permit area 133
  • DPA 133 is outside of the primary moose range and has been created to support better management of the deer population along the shore between Duluth and the Manitou River.
  • This southern and eastern portion of the old DPA 180 permit area supports higher deer numbers than areas to the north and farther inland.
  • This area is a mixture of private land, county forest, state forest, and state park land. There is a mixture of rural and residential areas, with both forested and open (pasture & lawn) areas on private parcels.
  • DPA 133 is an area that provides wintering grounds for deer; especially near the shore of Lake Superior and where human development occurs.
  • DPA 133 has very low numbers of moose and is considered to be outside of primary moose range.
  • In accordance with goal setting advisory team suggestions, population management will aim to increase deer densities by 25% relative to 2014 levels. State Parks and cities along the shore may continue to utilize special hunts as a way to control high deer numbers within local areas.